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Think you want to be a hairstylist? Thu Nguyen explains what it takes.

First, tell me how you’ve been in this line of work.

I’ve been doing it for 12 years.

What kind of schooling does that require?

I went to California Hair Design Academy. The state of California requires 1600 hours. Then you have to go to the State Board and take practical and written tests for your licensing. The whole process may take from a year to a year and a half. If you go full time, eight hours a day, you can finish within a year.

Are you an employee or self-employed?

I’m an independent contractor, so I rent a chair at Model Call Salon & Spa in Hillcrest. I pay weekly rent. That gets me a receptionist who takes care of my appointments and my clients when they come in, and checks them out when they leave. The back bar provides towels, shampoo, and conditioner, but I’m responsible for all of my styling products, equipment, color, etc.

So, right off the bat you have some overhead. How do you get your business? Do you advertise? Word of mouth? Or do you take walk-ins?

It’s mostly word of mouth and some marketing. I do a referral program where my clients get a complimentary service for referring a friend. I occasionally take walk-ins. Our clients are mostly by appointment only.

In your line of work, do you have the option to do it any other way, say as an hourly or salaried employee?

Commission stylists work by percentage. In that case, you wouldn’t pay rent, and all your equipment and color is provided for. If you’re fresh out of school and working as an assistant, you’ll get paid hourly or possibly commission, but that will help push you to work harder to build a clientele.

Has it been more difficult to make ends meet in the last couple of years? Have your clients come in less frequently or for less expensive services?

Oh, most definitely. Some of my clients have cut back on their costs by stretching out the time between appointments.

What changes have you made to adjust?

One major change I’ve made is doing a better job at keeping in touch with clients. I’ve started keeping a client database, so I know when was the last time they were here, what kind of treatment they got, what they purchased and so on. When you have so many clients, you tend to forget some of them. This way, I can make courtesy phone calls when I know they’re due for another cut or color treatment. And right now, I’m using my database to let clients know about my holiday promotion, where I’m offering $20 off for all services through the end of January.

I think I’ve also learned to listen more carefully to my clients’ needs and to work with their budgets.

Tell me the best and worst aspects of your work.

Standing on your feet can take its toll, especially with the heels I wear. And you don’t get benefits such as health insurance and 401ks.

The freedom to come and go as you please is the best part. Being your own boss. Working when you want. That’s the best.

What kind of advice would you offer to someone considering a career as a hairstylist?

Love what you do. Be a go-getter, self-motivated, and strong-willed. Push yourself because no one else is going to push you.

Education. You have to keep yourself up with the latest trends. Take classes. You can never stop learning after beauty school. Absorb everything you can.

If you don’t have a solid clientele, you shouldn’t be self-employed. As a stylist, you have to build that clientele for the first couple of years while you work as a commission-stylist. Then you can work your way up. Every salon will work that out with you.

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